By Grace-Marie Turner
Virtually all Americans will be required to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act starting in 2014, and President Barack Obama especially wants young, healthy people to sign up.
About two-thirds of the uninsured are younger than 40. They use fewer health services, and their premiums are needed to help keep insurance costs down for everyone else.
Yet the incentive structures in the law work at cross-purposes with this goal and could well undermine its success. It will all come down to costs.
Four out of 5 people younger than 30 will face higher premiums than without the Affordable Care Act even with the subsidies many can receive.
The law requires young people to pay more for their health coverage so older people can pay less. A study published this year by the American Academy of Actuaries’ Contingencies magazine found that because of this provision, “premiums for younger, healthier individuals could increase by more than 40 percent.” Young men will pay even more than young women.
A former director of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, conducted a survey that showed fewer than half of young people will sign up for insurance if premiums rise by 30 percent.
Young people also face a daunting approval process in applying for coverage. Applicants must divulge their income, family status and information about their employers, details on any insurance offered at work and their health habits — just to find out if they are eligible for subsidies.
Ezekiel Emanuel, a key architect of the president’s health plan, says he is worried that young people will be “bewildered,” and they may “forgo purchasing health insurance and opt to pay a penalty instead.”